Don’t wait for the thunderbolt of passion

People and companies who accomplish great things are usually characterised by a passion to push through obstacles and do whatever it takes to succeed. The million-dollar question is: Where does true passion really come from? Can it be taught? And how?
A couple of years ago when I wrote The Gold Mine EffectI met Haile Gebrselassie, the former marathon world record holder, and I asked him why he had such a passion for running. Here is what he told me:
“I started running to school because I couldn’t afford a bike. I realised I was fast, so running became my way out of poverty, and then suddenly, I started loving it. I also realised that I could help other people by running fast and that it was a great way of learning what you can achieve if you really want.”
Haile’s answer is interesting because it challenges the conventional idea about where passion comes from. We tend to speak about passion as an intrinsic source, which you can only find by delving deep into your heart and spirit. Once you have found your passion, self-discipline and persistence will emerge as a by-product.
But while it is certainly true that extremely persistent people are usually passionate about what they do, this does not necessarily mean that the passion came first. Perseverance can itself foster passion.
For instance, in a study of 24 pianists, all of whom had been finalists in at least one significant international competition, the American psychologist Benjamin Bloom concluded that they had all been forced to pick up their instrument and practise early in their careers. None of them had spontaneously walked over to a piano and started playing. This does not mean that they had no passion. You will never become one of the world’s elite in your field without that, but their passion only fully emerged after they had been playing for some time.
It’s often the case that the most fascinating depths and nuances of the subject do not present themselves to us until we have really absorbed ourselves in our work and dedicated ourselves to the extent that we understand it and are enlivened by it. In other words: first you must decide to persevere, and then passion will grow. Or as Haile Gebrselassie puts it: ‘You learn to love what you do.’
Don’t wait for the thunderbolt of passion to hit you. It’s not going to happen on its own. Instead, start to act – engage and invest yourself in what you do and the passion will start to flow. Often it’s perseverance that fosters passion, not the other way around.

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